The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity

By M. J. Akbar | Go to book overview

5

CIRCLE OF HELL

O shame upon Muslim rulers! At such an event tears fall, hearts break with sighs, grief rises up on high…

[Imam Sheikh Shams ad Din Yusuf, in a sermon on Jerusalem at the Great Mosque in Damascus after the truce of 1229 between Frederick and al Kamil in which Muslims peacefully handed over Christian holy sites to the Fifth Crusaders]

First, the good news. Frederick II’s official astrologer, Michael Scot, had class. He predicted his own death. Charting his horoscope he found that he would be killed when a stone of a particular weight fell on his head, so he began wearing a helmet at all times. Once, during mass in a church, he lifted the helmet and a small stone fell from the vault, injuring him slightly. He weighed the stone, found it was the predicted weight, went to bed and died. The year was 1235. He had joined the Holy Roman Emperor’s court in Italy in 1220 as resident alchemist and astrologer. His most singular achievement, apart from predicting his death, was the translation of Aristotle that reached Europeans through that great Arab scholar, Ibn Rushd, known to the West as Averroes. Frederick was one of those great princes who sought to build personal and intellectual bridges between the worlds of Christendom and Islam during the first half of the thirteenth century.

As was the norm, Frederick had many titles, including Prince of Princes and Wonder of the World. The second may even be justified as he led the only bloodless Crusade. According to the Arab historian Jamal ad Din ibn Wasil, he was ‘distinguished and gifted, a student of philosophy, logic and medicine and a friend to Muslims, for his original home was Sicily, where

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The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • 1 - Chapter and Verse 1
  • 2 - The Joys of Death: a Bargain with Allah 12
  • 3 - Rebellions in the Dark of the Night 26
  • 4 - A Map of Islam 40
  • 5 - Circle of Hell 52
  • 6 - Allah! Muhammad! Saladin! 67
  • 7 - The Doors of Europe 83
  • 8 - Jihad in the East: a Crescent Over Delhi 99
  • 9 - The Holy Sea: Pepper and Power 113
  • 10 - The Bargain Goes Sour 131
  • 11 - The Wedge and the Gate 145
  • 12 - History as Anger, Jihad as Non-Violence 160
  • 13 - Islam in Danger Zone 177
  • 14 - Jinnah Redux and the Age of Osama 189
  • Glossary 214
  • A Suggested Reading List 218
  • Thumbnail Sketches 228
  • Index 251
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